Land and Sky | Art Review | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Published April 18, 2007 at 4:00 p.m.

EXHIBIT: "Mapping the Way," works in multiple media by Janet Van Fleet, Jessica Hatheway, Sandra Mudge, Peter Fried, Gillian Klein, June Campbell, Daniel Kuciz and Paula McCullough. SEABA Offices & Red Concrete Showroom, Burlington. Through June.

ARTWORK: "Manhattan, Queens and the South Bronx" by Gillian Klein

Maps do more than tell us where we're going and where we've been. They also ground us in particular locations. In the exhibition "Mapping the Way," at the offices of the South End Arts and Business Association (SEABA) in Burlington, eight artists use maps and journeys as points of departure. Some of the painters and photographers have integrated actual maps into their artworks; all produce aesthetic responses to specific - albeit sometimes imaginary - locations with personal meaning.

Painter June Campbell has distilled maps to their simplest geometric essentials. Her five abstractions employ flat, hard-edged patches of color akin to the designs on Pueblo polychrome pottery. "Our Changing Landscape" is a tall, narrow, 18-by-36-inch composition that uses just seven flat hues - red, green, yellow, white, blue and two tones of brown - to assemble an abstract design around a vertical axis. The irregular geometric shapes are isolated in a taupe field.

Campbell's shapes in "Tax Maps 44 & 81 Detail" extend to the edges of the picture and include broader designs in even fewer hues. Only eight forms painted in turquoise, ocher, red, blue and green - separated by smooth, dark lines - abut each other on the 18-by-24-inch horizontal canvas. Its overall composition slopes gently to the lower left.

New York City expatriate Gillian Klein creates abstract maps of her hometown. While her chromatic harmonies are even more minimal than Campbell's, her canvasses are more painterly, because she uses various mediums and allows her brushwork to remain visible. Klein's 30-by-36-inch "Manhattan, Queens and the South Bronx" illustrates city geography with yellow-orange land masses surrounded by ultramarine waters. Isolated green patches in the land areas presumably represent parks.

Klein's monumental "Central Park" is a 10-foot-long diptych consisting of two 24-by-60-inch horizontal canvasses. The park is a succulent shade of green, punctuated by phthalo-blue ponds. Kleinrenders Frederick Law Olmsted's original park design true to scale and presents his sinewy pathways around the park in two colors: alizarin crimson and Naples yellow.

In this exhibition, the ever-versatile Janet Van Fleet shows herself inspired by astronomy and star charting performed by the Hubble space telescope. The central Vermont artist has been incorporating buttons into her work for several years. Her four tidy assemblages in this show clarify why. Van Fleet's website points out that buttons "represent, both formally and symbolically, all the different orders of magnitude, from subatomic particles through suns and galaxies." SEABA acting director Brooke Hunter writes in a curator's statement that Van Fleet's work now "appears to have moved into outer space." The artist concurs: "The button thing has been about stars and planets all along."

Van Fleet's piece entitled "Filter Finder" is a black, 18-by-21-inch mixed-media assemblage that looks vaguely like a scientific diagram. A four-by-five grid of star clusters shot by the Hubble is labeled with the letters A, B, C and D, along with the words "detected" and "not detected." Like stones in a game of Go, white and red buttons appear in the intersections of the grid lines. In other Van Fleet pieces, buttons are used to represent stars in a more literal way - they appear floating in a galaxy, inhabiting a nebula, or as objects in a clear night sky.

Several of the artists of "Mapping the Way" seem to be as influenced by cartography as by fine art. Historically, the realms have always overlapped. By rediscovering the link between abstract depictions of Earth's surface and inner landscapes of artists, SEABA expands its purview far beyond Burlington's South End.